Interview with the Founder, Wow Khoman
You don't have to rewind too far back—it really hasn't been so long. It was only a little more than two years ago when Wow Khoman, Founder of Khoman Room, graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with a BFA in Apparel Design and even less when she started her brand.
by Patrick Chen & Wow Khoman
"Feels like it's been forever," she said, slouching even further into her chair with exhaustion, unable, however, to stop a smile from stretching across her face. In that moment, you could almost yourself see her whole journey flash before her eyes.
"That I've been this person doing this thing. But, I mean, it only feels so long, because I know it hasn't and I haven't."
We sat down to speak with Wow Khoman to discuss some points she brings up in her interview.
A couple of times you spoke about what fashion and the industry seem to be lacking and how Khoman Room is making up for that. Could you elaborate more on this?
The basis for that comes from what I have observed working in the industry and what I've seen whether by following other brands or see on the runway or even in passing, however superficially the exposure, on so social media. And what I felt was that the pace of fashion has become too fast and, therefore, the work loses substance. The majority of what is being created for fashion is really only for the sake of staking a claim, saying that you are a player in this socially high-valued thing. It’s kind of like if fashion was farming, everyone’s just taking an apple or gathering the fruits while saying that they are farmers. All the while, no one is planting or growing anything, if that makes any sense.
What was one of the biggest challenges when you first started your company?
Pretty early on, I arrived at a point where I was confronted with this overwhelming feeling that I really didn’t know what I was doing. So I tried to put things into perspective and dial the enormity of it all down. What I realized was that I was a designer and that’s the only way I can tackle this challenge, that if I did my best in what I knew—and thankfully it was the right trade for the right endeavor—that it’ll be OK. I mean, I felt pretty reassured knowing that at least I knew how to go from idea to drawing to patterns to an actual garment. And what I didn’t know, I would ask and I would learn. And the more design I could put in, the better the product of fashion design would be, right?
In the interview, you mentioned that Khoman Room isn't exactly menswear. How does this play out in your brand?
I mean, I'm actually a womenswear designer by trade. When taking on menswear I discovered a big distinction, which was between the processes of design. With menswear, you start from a known garment and then you elaborate upon that. You build on top of it, but it kind of always has to resemble something that already exists, because of the way men interact with clothing. Womenswear, however, is quite different because years of dictation, exploration, iteration, and liberation have made clothing more than just a tool. Consequently, this has allowed room for conceptual development and storytelling, which create substantial emotional value and potential. With Khoman Room, we’re combining the best parts of both approaches to achieve a truly “full” garment.
And that isn’t something that anyone else is doing, but it is what distinguishes the pair of pants that sits at the bottom of the closet making you feel shitty about the bad purchase—which isn’t your fault by the way, it’s the brand’s—and the tried and true statement staple, favourite pair of whatever.
I really believe that each day when we get dressed, we’re preparing ourselves for the person we’re going to be that day. And when there is limitation either in the options we have or our own unawareness of the choices we could make to carve out an identity, we are settling on ourselves.
What about how Khoman Room represents itself as a streetwear brand?
As I mentioned in the video, I don’t think we look like anything else that’s already out there and we don’t want to. We’re not different for the sake of being different, we’re different, because we want to do more and push for more. If anything, that makes us more "street." It’s pretty easy, especially for marketing and brand positioning, to subscribe to the menswear/streetwear aesthetic, which is so prevalent that it's not just shaping the industry, but dominating it. I don’t know, I’d be pretty bored with myself if I just made more of what people already know they want instead of exciting them with what they had never imagined. I mean, that’s kind of my main job, right? At the very least, that’s the fun part in all of this and I'd rather not give that up so easily.
So what is Khoman Room exactly then?
Aw man, it's like I gotta put it into bite sizes, which I don't think it can be. The exactness of Khoman Room just a lot more than what I could easily sum up and spew out. It becomes complicated when I’m trying to distill the essence of the brand, yet that’s all that is facilitated in a conversation or in an ad or in an Instagram post—that’s the way information gets exchanged nowadays. What makes it even more difficult is that Khoman Room's core identity isn’t a singular thing like a look or a destination; it’s an idea and that’s so damn hard to show in a singular image or even in text, because let’s face it, no one really reads anymore. I mean, our style, if I really have to condense it, I guess, is urban romantic street dandy, but I can’t honestly say that that is enough. Khoman Room is a concept of difference with the hope for more through artistic expression by way of clothing, but come on, even I know that sounds like bleghhhhhh.
I remember saying to you (by "you" she means me, Khoman Room's in-house videographer/photographer, Patrick Chen) that I wish I was just more easily satisfied so I’ll sound 100% convinced. But what you had said the other day, I believe, hits the nail on the head. We were analyzing Khoman Room from a limited perspective, trying to see where it fits into the fashion landscape when the whole point is that it doesn't really.
In Asia, they don’t follow the "standards" set out like here. The people who manage to stand out really stand out and it’s because of how they choose to wear pieces that they own.
The brands themselves aren’t trying to fit into divisions in the market like womenswear, menswear, or streetwear, etc., but this doesn’t create any sort of hindrance or ambiguity, because it’s not applicable. The tendencies and choices made by consumers in Asia for brands with unique aesthetics are what create street style and, as a result, allow designers and their work to grow in diversity. BAM!!!
Menswear is interesting, because it’s something that has so many parameters and its something that’s more removed from me. So I get most of my information from sitting down with people and saying hey, how does this feel?
I think menswear makes me separate myself from it. ‘Cause I can spend all day long designing for myself and I will always be happy. But I think the best designs come from a universe that’s entirely your own, but the end product has nothing to do with you whatsoever, because it has to work for everyone else.
It’s easy to do things that are like, you know, ugh the world sucks, oh, you know, like all these things with memes and like social media and which the news tries to ram in, but it always misses that final step, which is necessary. It’s that, how can you make it better? How can you fix it and improve upon it? What’s your next step?
And I feel that Khoman Room somehow embodies that for me. This garment is going to change someone’s life. It's going to last better, it's going to fit their lifestyle better. It has the functions, it's got the pockets, it's got the little bit of intrigue. It's got something that looks different.
As much as we are a menswear brand and we're a streetwear brand, we don't look like anything else that's out there, I'd like to think. It doesn't look necessarily like streetwear, but it is. It is menswear, but it's only menswear, a little bit because of the fit, and not much else.
Khoman Room is a fluid space. I want to encourage people to add to it and use this chance to really just push and create and explore and make things better from this, because Khoman Room is a space for art and design to happen. Khoman room is a fashion brand and to make the end product it needs a lot of things. The best part about that is to be able to invite other creatives to be a part of the project, of what we do.
All these things, all these products, all these things that we create at Khoman Room, the best feeling is to know that it has interrupted someone’s day just a little bit.